A smooth-talking scammer persuaded friends and family to invest £179,000 in bogus deals and bogus insurance plans.
Robert Watkinson, 61, claimed to be a successful businessman who promised high returns on the investments he sought. With a flat in Southport and a cottage in the Ribble Valley, he flexed his fortune on the golf course and enjoyed expensive rounds in the village pub.
But Watkinson was really a penniless gambling addict with no qualifications who “robbed Peter to pay Paul,” Preston Crown Court heard. Between 2015 and 2017, Watkinson presented himself as a “charismatic, personable and successful person,” prosecutor Robert Smith said.
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He boasted of his expertise in a variety of areas including taxi insurance, business investing and personal injury. He and his wife Yvonne divided their time between their main residence in Southport and the cottage in Wiswell, which they used as a weekend retreat.
“Such was Robert Watkinson’s apparent credibility and success that he was able to persuade a number of individuals to invest money to support business ventures or a highly lucrative taxi insurance scheme,” Mr Smith told the court.
But under the surface, Watkinson’s business ventures were a sham, the flat in Southport was rented and the cottage in Wiswell belonged to his wife. Unbeknownst to her, Watkinson forged her signature to secure three loans against her Ribble Valley home, the court heard.
Over two years, the scammer convinced seven people to invest a total of £189,000 in his ‘businesses’, claiming he had a wealthy investor who would repay the loans. A man who entrusted Watkinson to be best man at his wedding has been swindled out of £30,000 after releasing equity from his home.
When he asked Watkinson for a copy of the loan agreement, the defendant said he would ask “the girls in the office” to sort it out. He has no office and no female employees, the court heard.
When investors pursued Watkinson for money owed them, he wrote checks from his business account registered with Polaris Financial Management, which bounced. Throughout Watkinson’s operations, the account balance has remained at zero, Mr Smith added.
In 2017, Watkinson’s lies were exposed when his wife realized he was working from home and owed money to various people.
Mr Smith said: “Yvonne Watkinson never really understood what kind of job her husband did. She herself had allowed the defendant to borrow much of her life savings over the years. In April 2017 the defendant confessed to his wife that a £50,000 loan had been taken out using their cottage as security. Yvonne Watkinson was devastated.
“The defendant admitted to her that he forged her signature on the indictment. She then learned that he had entered into two other loan agreements and that the defendant admitted to forging his wife’s signature on each of them.”
On November 17, 2017, Watkinson was arrested and said he worked as a sole proprietor at a claims management company, Airmar. He said he recently incorporated Polaris and registered as a director, but the company never traded.
He confessed to using the money to “pay Peter and Paul” and said he needed it to fund his lifestyle with his wife. He admitted to forging his wife’s signature on the loan agreements.
Watkinson, of Dickson Road, Blackpool, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud totaling £110,000 and four counts of theft totaling £79,000. He appeared at Preston Crown Court to be tried.
Mark Stuart, defending himself, said Watkinson was employed until he was 50 but has not been able to work since through no fault of his own, he said.
Court clerk Andrew Nuttall said in sentencing: “You have committed staggering offenses of dishonesty against people who trusted you – including your ex-wife. They actually forged her signature and used her cottage as collateral. They had no authority to use this as a security device. Her betrayal of her was so bad that she had to call the police herself. She was devastated. There are numerous victims in this case who have been devastated by your betrayal – and that’s the word: betrayal. These were evil deceptions and thefts.”
He sentenced Watkinson to three years in prison.